Orbital Sciences Corp’s stock keeps going up, but a technical snag has their latest space mission at a stand-still. The company’s recent stock market performance shows that Wall Street follows science and technology news… but not too closely.
Stock in Orbital Sciences Corp (NYSE: ORB), a private space technology company, has climbed up 10.65 percent in the past four weeks. Its current trading price is high above its simple moving average (a measure of a stock’s average closing price over a recent period) for the past 20 days. The company’s estimated earnings have been going up the past few weeks as well.
Yet ORB’s Cygnus spacecraft, its newest and most important project, has been floundering in space for two days. Cygnus, launched successfully aboard the company’s Antares rocket last Wednesday morning, is a cargo ship. Its mission was to take 1,500 lbs. of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), remain docked to the station for 30 days, and then take another 1,750 lbs. of space junk away. However, a software problem kept the Cygnus from docking.
Due to this computer problem, the bus-sized, cylindrical spacecraft rejected the ISS’s navigation data, sent by radio, causing it to miss the window in which it could connect with the space station. This delayed the docking by at least 48 hours and forced ISS crewmembers to take a whole day off. As it stands, Orbital Science Corp’s stock price is climbing, but the fate of this crucial mission is still up in the air.
Successful completion of this first mission is crucial for ORB, based in Dulles, VA. They face stiff competition from another private space technology firm, SpaceX. That California-based company was the first private company to send a cargo mission to the ISS, and they have an existing contract with NASA to continue. SpaceX has already mounted two successful supply missions as well as two demonstration missions.
At stake for Orbital Sciences Corp is a NASA contract of their own, to the tune of $1.9 billion for future deliveries through 2016. In order to do so, they have to both dock and depart, and before Cygnus can even dock, it has to pass a number of tests. Fortunately for ORB, it has already completed some of them.
“The vehicle first demonstrated its position and control ability, or its ability to orient itself in space;” NASA said in a statement. “Second, the vehicle turned off its engines and operated while in free drift; third, Cygnus conducted a demonstration abort maneuver.” Nevertheless, more challenges remain. For its final demonstration, Cygnus must point a tracking laser at a particular reflector. If this succeeds, the Cygnus’s thrusters will shut down so it can float freely in space, and crewmembers will grapple the cargo craft with a robotic arm. Only then can Cygnus dock with the ISS.
As of now, ORB believes they have addressed the problem with a software fix, but they won’t know until the end of the week. With a busy week at the ISS, including cosmonauts arriving from a Soyuz spacecraft, Cygnus’s next opening to dock isn’t until Saturday. In terms of stock price, Wall Street still stands by Orbital Science Corp, but it is up to the Cygnus mission to guarantee the company’s future.
Written By: Jeremy Forbing